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Age: 46

Occupation:Marketing Manager

Number of Cruises: 1

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Mariner of the Seas

Sailing Date: June 18th, 2006

Itinerary: Western Caribbean

Fresh back from the Mariner of the Seas trip that set sail on 6/18 (Western Caribbean)….and here’s our summary. “Wow” about sums up the experience in one word. You have to try a cruise at least one in your lifetime…and I ensure you’ll get addicted to it.

As a first-time cruise customer, I was optimistic about the experience I was about to embark on with my family. I had read Cruise Reviews, Port Reviews, and a host of other sites to pick Royal Caribbean International as our first cruise line. My family of four and my brother’s family of four both agreed a year ago to try a cruise. We had heard many positive things about RCL so rolled the dice with them.

I booked the vacation through RCL’s website after looking at Travelocity, Priceline, Expedia, and others. Once you zero in on a cabin type, you can pretty much shop all the sites to get a price range. As we got closer to April, I began to see things booking up fast, so I didn’t want to risk losing a nice cabin – and I booked through RCL. Very pleasant experience. We, however, did not book airfare through RCL – I found better deals on Priceline (including local hotels in Orlando). Also, we found a good transportation company (limo/van service) to haul all of our families back and forth to port. I recommend you check out Orlando Transportation & Tours. Georges, the owner, is great and totally customer focused. Picked us up on time and with good rates and nice vehicles.

We flew in from the Bay Area the day before and stayed in Orlando that same night. The drive from Orlando to Port Canaveral is about an hour – and you start to tingle when you hit the coast and your driver points out the top of the ships you can see in the distance. Nothing will prepare you, however, for the majesty of the ships. Mariner of the Seas is HUGE and beautiful. It’s really an incredible ship and only 3 years new. We arrived at port around 1 pm. Make SURE you print out your Boarding Documents in advance. This will speed you through the check in lines. I was surprised a lot of people showed up without them and waited in the long line. Our check-in went super fast and, before long, we were on board.

You pretty much leave your worries and cares behind on the pier once you’re on board. The crew takes care of the rest. We went to our cabin – which I was really worried about at first, having heard the stories of how small they may seem. This was the one area I decided to splurge on more than anything. I went for the Grand Suite with a patio on the 10th floor. My brother chose a regular cabin across the way. He squeezed his family in there (the bunk beds the steward pulls down at night in the normal cabins are really cool!). Needless to say, it was nice to have the roominess in the Grand Suite. We all hung out there quite often. It’s very spacious – and the starboard side patio was spectacular. The bathroom, too, was glorious. My wife was so appreciative to have the extra space….and with a 17 year old and a 7 year old – we needed it.

The ship, itself, is so enormous….you spend the first day just roaming around getting your bearings straight. The Royal Promenade with the shops – the bars – casino, shows, the pool deck – the Solarium – the Sport Court, Miniature Golf, Climbing Wall, Arcade, restaurants – it’s endless. There is so much to do on board that even in one week, you have a hard time trying to do it all. Near impossible.

One hidden part of the ship that we didn’t find until near the end of the cruise; go to the 3rd floor front of the ship and up the stairs to the helipad and the very front prow. This is really cool. You can look back and see the bridge of the ship - what a view. Dolphins and flying fish could also be seen on occasion near the front.

Since we had a Grand Suite, you get Concierge Lounge privileges along with many other goodies. We went to the lounge during happy hour from 5-8:30 pm (free drinks!). Good place to chat and have a drink without a lot of folks around. And the Concierge is usually around – so he can help make reservations for you at any show or restaurant on board.

The Food – I’d read mixed reviews about the food – but mostly positive. I was a bit worried – but after our first meal in the Main Dining Room, I was sold. Spectacular service – good wine selection – and great preparation and choice EVERY night. We were bloated at the end of the trip – and you actually start to avoid the food since it’s easy to be a glutton. Thank God for the gym, shore excursions, and walking around board ship to walk off the calories you’ll gain. Leave your diet at home.

And the ship is big on sanitization. At each restaurant, there is a hand sanitizer that you must use before entering to prevent germs from spreading. My wife loved this, as she is really picky when it comes to food cleanliness or buffets where others can manhandle the food. The ship even brought the hand sanitizers ashore in Labadee.

For breakfast and lunch, you have lots of choices. The Windjammer/Jade Café is always buzzing and a great buffet to choose from for all appetites. Asian cuisine to standard fare. The soups are very good. And if you’re not in a rush (and even if you are, they can get you out in under 30 minutes if you tell the staff you have to hit a shore excursion or show) use your main dining room for breakfast or lunch. It’s so nice to sit down and have the service. Great choices,

Do not miss Chops. We decided to let the kids go to Windjammer one night while the adults went to Chops. Wow. Very good steaks, appetizers, and desserts. A real steakhouse onboard ship. Excellent service (‘Drago’ was our waiter for the evening – and he was outstanding). We didn’t get a chance to try Portofino's – but folks we talked to say it was delicious, too. We had only one ‘off’ night in the Main Dining room where the beef dish wasn’t stellar – so skip the steak/beef/pork in the Main dining and go straight to Chops. Much better cuts of beef and grilled to perfection.

The ship has food round the clock – so you can eat at just about anytime. The kids loved Johnnie Rockets – that was a hoot for them. And running downstairs to the Promenade for a late night snack is easy. Great place in the morning for a quick cup of coffee or tea, too.

The Shows – This was one area we didn’t partake in very much. We saw one singing/dancing revue show. And we played one game of Bingo together just to try it (This isn’t your grandma’s variety of bingo – it’s much faster and well attended…. a lot more adrenaline). We went to the Casino a few nights just to try our luck. The 21 tables were great – very fun. The parades inside the Royal Promenade were also a blast. Camp out at the Wig and Gavel pub for the best table and shows. The parade goes right by and the kids loved it.

Our children ran all over the boat the week we sailed. To the pools, the arcade, the gym (but 16 and older required) – there is so much to do for them. And places to just hangout for their age groups. The Arcade was a major hit – games for everyone to try. I kind of wish they weren’t so expensive to play compared to what you get at home – they rip through their Sea Pass accounts pretty quickly if you don’t watch it. Miniature golf is really fun for the whole family. We played a late night game with the ocean breeze (very warm) around us. A pleasant experience. Do not miss the shuffleboard games on board. This is so much fun. It’s a lot harder than you think it is. The pucks get very slippery as you slide them across deck and it’s hard to gauge speed. A very fun game for everyone to play.

Shore Excursions – Let’s just put it this way. If you’re a first time cruiser, it’s hard to decide what to do. Read the Port Reviews heavily to help you decide. We used the RCL’s excursion site to pick what we wanted….and went ashore for all port calls. Glad we did – but I think I would probably choose to skip one port just to enjoy the luxury of the ship and sit in a lounge chair sunning or reading a book if I could do it over. You have so much to do during the cruise – that you forget, sometimes, to just relax and have a good time. Enjoy.

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